The peaceful sound of wind chimes and the glow of soft sunlight on Thomas and Kathy Emery's front porch Thanksgiving morning was a stark contrast next to the boarded up window on the front of the home. The window was one of many signs of the tragedy that happened inside the home hours earlier.
“The first time I was kind of overcome by the smoke, [I] came out to the front porch, I called 911 because I didn't know if I would be able to get back in there again,” Thomas said.
That was the first time he tried to save his 62-year-old wife, after waking up to the sound of smoke detectors just before 1:30 a.m.
“I tried again to get back in there and was overcome by the smoke again and had to crawl out of the bedroom out to the front porch.
Feeling helpless, he barely made it out. Police and firefighters quickly arrived on the scene in the 19,000 block of Darden Road. but couldn’t get to Kathy either because the smoke, flames and heat were too strong.
The fire started, Emery said, when his wife lit a cigarette too close to the oxygen she used to help her breathe.
Dispatchers initially sent a crew to the home for a medical call, said Clay Fire Territory Fire Marshal Dave Cherrone, after receiving the 911 call reporting a small fire that was already out. But when they arrived on scene and entered the home, firefighters came upon heavy smoke, flames and heat coming from a bathroom.
“The paramedic says it’s just one of those things – it’s an accident, it happens,” Emery said.
“Obviously fires and injuries and deaths are something bad, no matter what time of year it is,” added Cherrone. “But obviously it's a holiday and our thoughts and prayers are with the husband who's got to contact other relatives.”
Emery contacted each of the couple’s eight children and planned to spend the rest of the day with his children and grandchildren, away from the home the couple built in 2001.
“Everybody loved her,” he said. “She was a character. She always felt like nobody liked her and she was always quiet, shy and a little wallflower.”
Kathy slept on the living room couch and Thomas stayed next to her on the floor each night to make sure he was close if she needed him, he said. But she did not wake him Thursday morning, asking for help to the bathroom.
Now he faces the daunting idea of figuring out how to go on without her.
“Enjoy life for today,” he said, his eyes welling with tears. “Because someone you love very dear may not be here tomorrow.”
The State Fire Marshal’s office investigated the fire, per protocol when a fire becomes fatal. The investigation is closed and the fire has been ruled an accident, Cherrone said, but added he would not confirm how it started until Friday, after being sure all of the victim’s extended family was contacted.